By DAVE SULLY
When dAMBEST sells a carburetor to its customers, that creation represents the sum total of over 20 years of intense research and study by its founder John Satterfield, an internationally known expert in the field of internal combustion engines.
Satterfield, who became a highly successful engine builder during his years as a drag racer, has made the science of efficient combustion techniques a consuming passion. That has resulted in his gaining a highly regarded reputation in all areas of racing, from what is now NASCAR Nextel Cup through the Busch Series, Craftsman Trucks, NHRA and the NASCAR Modified Series. In addition, he has developed carburetors for dirt Modifieds and other dirt divisions in the Northeast out of his machine shop in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
The "dAM" acronym for Satterfield's firm didn't come about because of some pompous braggadocio, although the success he has enjoyed might have allowed for that. It actually stands for Dutchess Automotive Machine, with the "best" coming later once Satterfield convinced himself that he was the best on the city block after cutting his teeth at one his parttime jobs, an automotive machine shop known as Detroit Automotive Machine in Poughkeepsie.
For the 53-year-old Satterfield, the journey started while he was in his teens, when he made money on the weekends changing car engines because he believed it would eventually make him rich. With a few hundred dollars in his pocket from his endeavors, he thought he had it made.
But reality reared its ugly head, and he realized there was more to life than swapping motors. Eventually, on the strength of $1,005, he founded Dutchess Automotive Machine (Dutchess being the business's county of residence)in 1969. To go along with the engine lift he had from his previous endeavor, he bought a hot tank and a seat grinder. The machine shop evolved from there.
Around the same time Satterfield became interested in drag racing. In his ensuing travels he found out that being the smartest guy on the city block didn't make him the smartest guy in the country.
"When I went into the national arena people positively didn't like the fact that I had the 'city block' attitude," he observed. "For a short time I didn't get it. I thought, rightly or wrongly, that I was the smartest kid on the city block. Now that I was in New Jersey or Indianapolis, I wasn't the smartest one there any more. There were plenty of smart folks."
Even though he had developed a positive reputation in the business, he needed what could be charitably called an "attitude adjustment." He decided that he didn't want to annoy people. He wanted to grow, so he shelved the attitude and went to work.
Always one with high expectations, Satterfield worked very hard and studied a lot of sciences. As his reputation grew, he began speaking at conferences on the national and international level and was beginning to be recognized for his skills.
Those skills involved acquiring a number of talents in the field of engines.
"I designed complete engines," he said. "I was probably the first guy in the world that did the big cams. I developed a lot of premier engine technology. I used to work with a race team called Wayne County, which fielded the likes of nationally known drag racers Darrell Alderman and Scott Geoffrion. I was the behind the scenes engineer for that team.
"I developed a lot of technologies, but the thing is, I couldn't protect (as in patent) one of them. Maybe 20 something years ago I got tired of buying carburetors from a lot of folks, so we decided to do carbs. I realized in that arena I could protect the technology. It's more easily identified than porting heads, and I could do patents. Currently I have five."
Carburetors had other advantages as well.
"They were UPS-able out of the local area," said Satterfield. "Everything needs to be shipped over night. It gets really expensive when you're trying to ship an engine overnight. Carburetors overnight weren't too bad, so we focused on carburetors because they were UPS-able and protectable."
Satterfield didn't go into this blindly.
"I had 15 years involved with the Texaco Research Center," he said, "and my experience with fuel understanding is pretty good."
He gained a tremendous amount of experience in the understanding of fuels. It was good enough that he did consulting on the combustion process for fuel companies-not a bad background for someone building carburetors. As a matter of fact, one of his patents is in the field of gas-turbine technology (jet engines).
Since entering the carburetor arena, Satterfield has incorporated innovations, including the use of a wet bench to develop products and make sure everything is repeatable before shipping. Perhaps more importantly, his science background and engine building experience support his carburetor efforts.
"One time I was talking to Ernie Elliott (the well-known NASCAR engine builder and brother of Bill), who is on my lease program (wherein carburetors can be leased rather than purchased), and he wanted me to increase the jet size on my carburetor," said Satterfield. "I could tell Ernie easily that the exhaust side of his engine was too big. At the time I was doing a lot of Cup work and I had had that same carburetor in six shops, and they didn't even need to breathe on it.
"Even though Ernie was on my program, typically we'd be sending people newly developed parts on a regular basis so they could continue to try new things. It was a lease program. You didn't purchase. You would lease a carburetor for a year, and we would continue to update the technology and give them new things to try. We could support the carburetors with follow-up technology that nobody else in the industry really had, since we have a complete research facility here as well to design all aspects of the engine."
Satterfield's Cup experience went well. He worked with top teams like Penske Racing and Bill Davis Racing. There was considerable travel involved with these ventures, however, and that was interrupted when Satterfield, a former tri-athlete, suffered serious injuries while riding his bicycle. He collided head-on with a car and suffered two broken legs. He was lucky to survive.
Even before that, however, Satterfield had found that his Cup efforts were becoming marginally profitable due to the amount of time and effort expended. But his Northeast market was improving. Coupling that with two broken legs that severely limited his traveling ability, Satterfield decided to switch directions. As a result, in the last two years he has focused on the Northeast market -primarily dirt.
Satterfield markets his carburetors through dealers and has some big names in the fold, including Spraker Racing and Ed Monger's Magsarus. Recently he added Roundout Engines in Accord, N.Y., as an engine builder/dealer as well. There are others, but in the highly competitive racing arena they prefer to remain anonymous. Satterfield noted that 90-95 percent of his carburetors are sold through dealers, whether it be an engine builder dealer or a regular dealer like Spraker Racing.
Satterfield does not have a shop staff, preferring to outsource the manufacture of specialized parts to those best qualified to produce them. He does the assembly, however.
When it comes to performance-which, after all, is what racers are looking for-Satterfield's expertise comes to the fore once again. He can help engines attain peak with fuel efficiency as well.
Following testing at Indianapolis with the Penske and Davis teams, he noted that the smallest performance gain that they had with fuel saving was four-and-a-half percent. Of particular interest to dirt Modifieds, he added, "They tend to run in the 15 to 17 percent range. It sounds like a lot, but that's what the teams are telling me. The dyno results are similar because of some of the other things we're doing."
With the number of extra-distance races increasing on the dirt Modified circuit and the price of fuel rising, this should be welcome news to the race teams-most of whom aren't independently wealthy.
Though he had been building carburetors for Northeastern oval tracks all along, it was the near fatal accident that caused him to reassess his priorities and led him to concentrate on that market.
Satterfield described his philosophy: "Let's really be service oriented. My carburetors are extraordinarily drivable. I offer backup dyno service and more technology to that end. I did everything I could (for that market). I wanted the carburetors to be the best, and I needed to offer the service. So it naturally grew, because they were out winning races. Even my dissatisfied customers ended up being satisfied.
"One customer from upstate wasn't initially satisfied. I told him to bring his engine and stuff down here. We put it on the dyno and found out the ignition wires were the problem. Then he went out and won all kinds of races. He wound up winning the championship at his local track."
As a result of that, this particular customer-Capital District Modified driver Ryan Odasz-sold 20 carburetors by himself. Satterfield believes that the reason for that was because Odasz got service for his problem. Even though the carburetor wasn't the cause of his difficulty, they resolved the situation and he started winning races.
Because he is essentially a one-man operation, Satterfield has developed a somewhat unique marketing angle.
"My dealers act as my sales force and my customer relations at the race track," he said. "I'm not going to compete with my dealers. I'm going to support them. When I go to a trade show, like Syracuse (National Parts Peddler), I make no sales on the floor. I defer to my dealers because I can't be at the racetrack.
"The dealers are excellent at what they do. They know their clients. Let's support them. I don't have to train 20 technicians. I train my dealers to assist at the track, and they have gotten to be extraordinarily good. The system is working for me."
Satterfield then explained what actually happens when a customer approaches a dealer about acquiring a carburetor.
"If the dealer is an engine builder, I ask if they want a dyno carburetor or a race carburetor because they are different," he said. "They are nowhere near alike. A dyno carburetor doesn't see transitional throttle work; you just deal with wide open. So I ask if they want a racing carburetor or a dyno carburetor, because I can't build both.
"I'd love it to go on the dyno and make more power, but I couldn't care less if it didn't. When the customer goes to the racetrack, there are several contributing factors. You've got closed throttle fuel problems, like when you reach peak RPMs. It's one of the things I learned from acquisition at Indianapolis. You've got a Nextel Cup car that goes up to 9600 RPMs at Indianapolis and they close the throttle. They watch the fuel flow rate go up, not down. That's amazing because the idling circuit was never made to handle that much fuel differential.
"The same principal applies to a dirt Modified. When you're trying to have the car respond in the corners to throttle, you have a problem. If you've seen someone shoot a six-foot flame out of their exhaust, that's what happened. They filled the entire engine and exhaust system up with fuel and then lit it off.
"You don't want that if you want the car to respond, because the
1) The dAMBEST dyno has a throttle actuator that allows it to analyze transient throttle performance; 2) Based on the camshaft that the individual racer runs, the engine will pick up the throttle differently. With its own cam development facility, dAMBEST can certainly help. (Photos courtesy of dAMBEST)
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